Top 5 Tips for Learning Chinese as an Adult


Always wanted to master Mandarin? Never quite known how to go about it? Want to learn some tips and tricks about how to fast-track your learning? While there are many options for young learners, such as studying in one of the international schools in China, it may feel that there are fewer available routes for adults learning a second language. Stick around as this article aims to give you the top 5 tips to master Mandarin (or any language). 

#1 Conversation, conversation, and more conversation

The absolute fastest way to learn a new language is to spend time conversing with native speakers. This might seem daunting to new learners, but this is why it’s one the best ways to learn – speaking to a real person adds a little pressure and means you have to try your best to be understood and learn. One hour of conversation is often as effective as five hours or more of classroom learning. Try to find a private instructor or look for a native-speaker who wants to exchange language learning with you. To maximize this, accompany the conversation with note-taking and the use of a dictionary.

Once you have a little bit of conversation down, do your best to use it whenever you can to retain it. If you live in a country where the language you’re learning is spoken widely, use it as much as you can instead of relying on English. If there’s something you don’t know, you can always revert to English to help you. Remember, every language learner has those slightly awkward, stumbling moments where they get things wrong or can’t understand what is being said. Never be put off by this – it’s simply a part of the learning process.

#2 Know what your goals are

You’re learning this new language for what, exactly? Do you want to be able to order food in a restaurant, ask people for directions, buy public transport tickets? It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll be able to speak a language perfectly in every aspect of life within a short period of time. Figure out what you want to achieve and set these as milestones. For example, “In two weeks, I want to be able to order food at a restaurant comfortably”.

#3 Learn the most important words first

Most classroom learning will teach you things like items of clothing and sports. Sure, these things are important but are these words you’re likely to use in day-to-day conversation on the street or in shops and restaurants? Probably not. Each language has its own “most important” frequently used words, but the words you should first learn include numbers and greetings. Find out the 100 most important words in the language and set a milestone for when you’ll have each one of them down.

#4 Carry a dictionary/app

In the early days of conversing in a language, you’ll find that you’re often stumped on how to carry on the conversation because you lack knowledge of one word. A pocket dictionary or app on your phone gets around this and means your conversation attempts are never stopped in their tracks.

#5 Learn “How do I say ____?”

This is such a useful phrase to know. It’s much better to ask in the language how to say a word or phrase. For example, “How do I say ‘table’?” Of course, you could ask the whole question in English, but this immediately removes you and the other participants from conversing in the language. It’s better to stay speaking in the language you’re learning as much as possible.

Bonus tip

The above five tips are fantastic ways to boost your learning and maximize your time, but they’re never going to work unless you follow this tip of paramount importance: have fun! Too many adults dread learning a language (most likely because of stressful experiences at school that resulted in zero language retention). The best tip of all for learning a new language is not taking it too seriously. Laugh when you make mistakes and celebrate your accomplishments no matter how small. Good luck!


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